Allen Bearden Credit: John Myers

Meaningful changes in schools and in classrooms must involve teachers. So says Allen Bearden, now associate director of ST(2), a teacher support program at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Bearden talked with researcher John Myers about unions and professional development, teacher leadership, the need for National Board certification and why teachers quit.

Why should unions care about teacher leadership and professional development?

Unions can’t ignore the bread-and-butter issues that most teachers are concerned about: getting their paychecks and medical benefits. But if unions are going to be professional organizations, they have to concentrate on what teachers actually need to perform in classrooms. New teachers are demanding that.

Some union folks say leave training and professional development to central office. Are you saying that central office is not up to the task?

Central offices could do that, but they often have a narrow focus. The focus in Chicago is on literacy. There’s less emphasis on other content areas, like fine arts, music, science, math and family and community involvement. Unions could help with that.

Should the union push for more partnership schools?

If the programs that the union is implementing help those schools show progress, then by all means, they should be replicated and allowed to continue.

The Quest Center worked to get more teachers certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. That helps individual teachers, but how does that help an entire school improve?

The intent of the program was not just to validate that teachers have great knowledge and skills. It was to help these teachers become leaders. The Quest Center started to collaborate with CPS’s National Board support program to do mentor training to help those board-certified teachers become facilitators, coaches and mentors. And we had a group of people who would go around and talk about the benefits of becoming board-certified.

I talked with some teachers who went through the program. Now they’re fired up about union politics. Would you expect to see that?

Sure. We don’t just advocate leading in your content areas or classroom practice. You have to become a voice for the profession. And it doesn’t surprise me that those people who have gone through certification start to speak out. We would like them to take on the legislators and business people, to have a voice for their profession and what’s important for children.

The certification process is grueling. What can the district do to make it easier?

We need to establish satellite sites with resources, libraries and computers and technology, so that teachers could use them not just to become board-certified, but have seminars and conversations about teaching and improving practices.

What can happen at the school level?

Nancy Laho (CPS director of principal preparation and development) helped us to sponsor a conference for principals, to inform them about how to support teachers who are going through the process. Many of them vowed to support their teachers. Many of them do. But not enough principals know about the program and are interested enough to support it.

How would you grade CPS on hiring and retaining new teachers?

The data that we collected when I was working with the CPS program showed teachers were starting to stay longer. But I think that there were some cutbacks, and it takes personnel and dollars to make these programs effective.

What is the most important reason teachers leave the district?

Besides housing costs and salaries, in a survey the union did several years ago, teachers said that they did not receive enough support, not only from administrators, but also from families.

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